Dir. by Dan Ireland
Listen up, this is the first, and I daresay last, time I will enthusiastically recommend a Women’s Entertainment Network movie. Hey, even if I wasn’t friends with the screenwriter, Michael Scott Myers, I’d still love this movie!
It is the true story of the friendship between Novalyne Price (played by Renée Zellweger), a young schoolteacher in Cross Plains, and Robert E. Howard (Vincent D’Onofrio), the greatest pulp writer in The Whole Wide World.
The film is based on One Who Walked Alone, a fictionalized memoir of Novalyne’s friendship with Bob written decades later. Novalyne Price-Ellis taught high school in Louisiana for many years and numbered among her students Michael Scott Myers and Benjamin Mouton who would later bring her story to the screen.
Novalyne met Bob Howard through a mutual friend, Tevis Clyde Smith (Benjamin Mouton), in 1933. She was intrigued by him and when she went to Cross Plains to teach high school, she renewed the acquaintance. What followed was a wonderful friendship and a terribly strained romance. Bob wrote lusty, swashbuckling tales filled with sex and violence. Novalyne was a prim and proper schoolteacher. While the Conan stories are perhaps mild by today’s standards, the utter insistence on Bible Belt respectability (especially by teachers) in the 1930s should not be underestimated. Novalyne was a strong-willed lady, she braved a certain amount of disapproval in seeking out Bob. On the other hand Bob pushed her farther than she was willing to go.
Novalyne was fascinated by Bob’s ability to commit his imagination to paper and hoped to learn from him how to start her own writing career. She got a lot more than she bargained for, and ended up in something of her own debate on civilization and barbarism. She actually came off a better than H.P. Lovecraft did in his famous epistolary duel with REH!
But there was a dark side to Bob. He was a moody man, and his stubborn, argumentative nature sometimes riled Novlayne. His disdain for conventional opinion dismayed and infuriated Novalyne. For a Christmas gift he gave her a book of French erotica, which is about like giving Mother Teresa the DVD of Kill Bill V1&2. It appears Bob had a bit of a chip on his shoulder too. He was aware of the disdain the some, let me emphasize only SOME, of his neighbors felt for him. Bob harshly dismissed her attempts to bring him into her social world. He also emphasized his need for freedom, to not be tied down by a woman.
Then there was Mrs. Howard (played by Anne Wedgeworth), surely one of the most debated literary mothers of all time. Novalyne saw her as plainly hostile, aiming to keep her precious Robert to herself. While that is possible, she was also terminally ill. After Bob and Novalyne drifted apart, Mrs. Howard’s health declined sharply. Strained to the limit by helping to care for her, wounded by his self-inflicted break-up with Novalyne, and too stressed to write (a pulp writer was like a shark, he had to keep moving or die), Bob began behaving erratically. Soon after Novalyne left to attend LSU, Bob shot himself. He had decided not to outlive his mother, and when he was informed she would die shortly he took his life.
Now all of what I’ve written makes for a so-so summary, but a cruddy review. Because this movie is about the wonder of discovering a love that might be, filled with promise and adventure. It is about the uncertainty of seeing an open door, and not being sure if one can step through. It is about the pain of losing someone, and never being able to say goodbye. I watch this movie about once or twice a year. I never get tired of it.